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e-Democracy update - 16/11/05

16 November, 2005
By Daniel Macpherson

UN summit wants fairer web access

World leaders and technology experts are meeting for the United Nations' three-day World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia.

The summit will act as a platform for over 10,000 participants to discuss benefits from the digital revolution for poorer countries.

European Union (EU) representatives are currently negotiating between the United States and a group of countries, including China and Iran, who are pushing for international control.

"We're two-thirds of our way to a good compromise," EU spokesman Martin Selmayr says.

Stanford Law School professor and Internet law expert Lawrence Lessig says one of three different things can happen at Tunis.

"The Europeans could get it together and actually invoke the authority to exercise control over Internet governance, displacing the [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] position. The Americans could find a way to buy them off. Or, there could be a stalemate," he says.

"But what's interesting is, in 1998, there was no question of the Europeans taking over because there wasn't the level of scepticism of the U.S. government, even though there was a lot of scepticism about ICANN at the time."

WSIS runs from November 16-18.

Online critics target Louisiana Governor

Critics in the US are using websites and weblogs to petition for the recall of first-term Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco. administrator Chuck DeWitt says Blanco is responsible for the state's lack of preparedness and has mishandled the rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"Governor Blanco's incompetence and disregard for the citizens of Louisiana before the hurricane struck and her inexplicable actions in the days afterward can only be considered dereliction of duty," Mr DeWitt says.

"Louisiana needs a new Governor, and I hope you'll join me in demanding a recall election."

A representative for Ms Blanco says she does not respond to blogs or web sites that lack credibility.

"If a journalist has questions about the validity of a blog or website, then we respond to the reporter who upholds an oath or reporting accurate, credible facts," Ms Blanco's representative says.

University of Louisiana-Lafayette Political Scientist Pearson Cross says Ms Blanco has been weakened and people are trying to capitalize on her weakness.

"Negative advertising works. You don't have to win your point. You have to just raise the question. A recall petition is something that does that very successfully," he says.

US Democrats push for national broadband

The US Democrats have put forth a plan to deliver high-speed Internet access to all American citizens within five years.

U.S. House of Representatives' Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says such a plan will provide easy access to jobs and other opportunities for all people.

However, Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert says the Democrats' plan would lead to "more taxation, litigation and regulation".

The Democrats' plan also includes: granting scholarships aimed at producing 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the next four years; doubling research and development spending, and boosting tax incentives; seeking alternative-energy sources that lessen the nation's reliance on Middle East oil; and providing assistance to small businesses.

Earlier this year, Intel Senior Vice President Pat Gelsinger said he was fearful that the United States risked becoming a second-tier technology player because of a declining educational system.

"We have a lousy education system," Mr Gelsinger said.

"We have a weak infrastructure that is decaying... As a U.S. citizen, I am fearful. I just fear for our long-term competitiveness."

Last year, US President George W. Bush said high-speed broadband should be available to "every corner" of the United States by 2007.

Brazil embraces open-source

The Brazilian government will develop their information and technology society with more open-source software, according to an information technology organisation.

Centre for Technology and Society director Ronaldo Lemos, whose organisation has advised the Brazillian government on such strategies, says open-source software has already been deployed on all government level.

"Before the Federal government embraced free software, there had been initiatives at the city and state levels that helped to pave the way for a broader program," Mr Lemos says.

Mr Lemos says the software will save money for the government and increase educational benefits where people can access source code.

"The interesting thing that happened... is that people not only started to use computers to browse the Internet, but also a significant number of people started to learn programming, by tinkering with the source code of the programs," he says.

The Brazillian government has also announced plans to distribute one million laptops with open-source software to local schools.

Arabic Blog wins special blog prize

Arabic Weblog "Manal and Alaa's Bit Bucket" has won the special award from free press organisation Reporters Without Borders in Deutsche Welle’s Best of the Blogs (BOBs) competition.

Manal and Alaa are a wife and husband team whose blog has become an institution among Arabic bloggers and journalists critical of the Egyptian regime.

Deutsche Welle's 12-member jury also condemned the Chinese government's blocking of BOBs finalist "Wang Yi's Microphone".

"Bloggers like Wang Yi, who are courageous enough to publicly protest against government bans, deserve the support of the international community," says Guido Baumhauer, editor-in-chief of Deutsche Welle's online website.

Deutsche Welle will announce the winners in the 12 other categories, including Best Weblog, on November 12, 2005.

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